New Generation Thanksgiving

Photo: Lars Wanberg Larrie's family celebrates the first of two Thanksgivings this year.

Photo: Lars Moe Wanberg
Larrie’s family celebrates the first of two Thanksgivings this year.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

Four generations of family were together at a festive table laden with traditional foods during the first of two Thanksgiving dinners for new generation mobile families that are traveling, some across country, to share the formal holiday with another side of great grandparents.

As patriarch of my Norwegian-American family name in America, I could bring the spirit of my great grandparents alive at the table, by a few stories that started in Viking times on a parcel of land along a fjord in Norway and traced a few names of the immigrant pioneers as adventurous spirits settling in a new land.

The theme of a few stories emphasized to the great grandchildren how the foods on the table belonged to traditions that reflected the original Thanksgiving when Native Americans shared food with the Pilgrims. Today, both ancestral cultures were present at the table—Norwegian-American and Native American.

From the “head of the table,” I told the story of the Indian “Legend of the Seventh Generation,” which describes how the children of the 7th-generation will become stewards of Mother Earth and will provide leadership to preserve the legacies of those gone before. I could point to large framed photos of family genealogy on the walls for illustration.

For my adult grandchildren, the story was interesting and held their attention. However for me, it was difficult to keep a conversation going after dinner with my great grandchildren of preschool age, as they are so busy with toys and some were engaged with their hand-held digital devices that keep them entertained and engrossed.

And no wonder, as I am the white-haired man with a photo on the wall who appears periodically from a distance and is rarely sharing prime face-to-face time with them.

When they ask about where I come from, they have a hard time relating to a period in my childhood history from the “dirty thirties” that seems relevant or even fathomable.

I think I have found a solution.

In one word, it is “embellish” oral history in visual, interactive ways. In another reference, it is called digital storytelling.

I’m trying an experiment with them that could continue online. I’m picking out some stories of their ancestors, and yes embellishing them to make them more interesting.

What the experiment entails is to tap into the talents within the family system to produce 1-3 minute documentary-type films to preserving the legacy stories of the family heritage. The short films capture stories viewable from a smart phone on both sides of the family lineage of the great grandparents through a “transmedia” approach.

Transmedia is a term that originated in 2007 in California to describe all forms of media combined to tell a digital story—script, narration, music, single images and video clips—and sometimes multiple screens within a larger screen to tell stories within stories.

The talent around the table fulfilled a treasure of skills and specialties in digital storytelling to pull together a family legacy of heritage – a filmmaker, a scriptwriter, a Nashville songwriter and performer, an editor, social media specialists and a host of supporting cast.

I’m exploring ways to develop family stories along a “timeline” that parallels family history to give the great grandchildren some perspective of time span and the enduring qualities of their ancestors. The proposed method is to create a game for younger children, say seven inviting photos of a scenic-place stretching across the top of the screen and if a child clicks with a curser on the landscape picture, the story of an ancestor who came from that place in a time will play out in a 1-3 minute visual story like a movie.

The great grandchildren at two festive Thanksgiving dinners in two households this year are the 7th generation in our expanding families. My intended gift to my nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren in this digital age is that a dedicated Web portal can begin capturing and preserving the family lineages and place-based stories as a matter of a “living legacy” and once a month, we have a Sunday afternoon online chat room, when stories can be exchanged and posted.

At the Thanksgiving tables wherever the expanding families are celebrating this year and the next, the stories of heritage reconnect those with a common name in present time to ancestors who have passed, their struggles and their successes, many with surprisingly similar physical features from the family photo scrapbooks and traits and talents that seem to recycle over generations.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.